Budget would expand disabled services

Gov. Bobby Jindal took heat last year when he vetoed funding to expand home and community services for people with disabilities.

This year Jindal is proposing additional dollars in the state spending plan so that about 2,500 more people can get those services.

Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Kathy Kliebert said Thursday that the proposed state budget — for the fiscal year that begins July 1 — would include $26 million in new money for programs that would help care for the developmentally disabled and the elderly in their homes, rather than at institutions. State government would provide $10 million of that amount and the rest of the money would come from the federal government.

The programs have lengthy waiting lists, sometimes up to 10 years. Nearly 50,000 of Louisiana’s developmentally disabled, elderly, and those with adult on-set disabilities are seeking the services.

The state’s budget for the executive branch agencies that provide most of the services is being released Friday.

On June 21, after the 2013 Legislative Session had ended, Jindal vetoed money for the program expansion that legislators specifically had included in the current year’s budget. He stated that the Legislature failed to provide enough funding for healthcare. His veto set off a firestorm among some legislators and advocates for the disabled who sought unsuccessfully to override his decision.

“Securing these funds was one of our top priorities,” Kliebert said.

The funding would allow DHH to expand “critical” services and reduce waiting lists across all programs.

Kliebert said DHH estimates that the waiting list for programs will drop by more than 4,000 people as more people get services and others are dropped from the list because they cannot be found, no longer need the services, or have moved out-of-state.

DHH is working on a plan to restructure the programs so those with the greatest needs get services first, she said.

Jindal’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes more than $606 million in spending on a variety of home and community based services programs — a nearly 6 percent increase over the current year’s $573.9 million. Part of the money will allow 200 more people to get services through the New Opportunities Waiver. NOW is DHH’s most comprehensive waiver program for people with developmental disabilities, with a waiting list of 1,820 adults and children.

Advocates for the developmentally disabled, including state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, joined Kliebert for the announcement.

“These supports and services help thousands of families care for their loved ones in their own homes,” said Jason Durham, of Clinton, who calls himself a “Dadvocate” for his daughter, Bailey.

“It’s very beneficial to the people on the waiting list who have waited the longest for services,” said Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council Cchairwoman Kay Marcel, of New Iberia.

The funding will go toward expansion of NOW and several other programs offering different levels of supports for people of varying ages and disabilities, such as Community Choice and Children’s Choice. According to DHH 16,304 individuals receive services through the programs. The Community Choice is an alternative to nursing homes for seniors and persons with adult on-set disabilities has the longest waiting list at 32,303.

When the Legislature approves the budget, DHH would begin to get people screened, first, and then receive the services that fit their needs. “It will take us the full (fiscal) year to get us where we can fill all the slots,” Kliebert said.

The new financial investment also would allow the state to lift a policy, under which DHH did not fill all slots authorized because of budget woes. During the current year, the openings have gone to those in special circumstances, such as emergency situations, those transitioning out of institutions and children aging out of other programs.

Claitor, who pushed for program expansion last year, said he thought the Legislature would be receptive to the extra funding during budget considerations.

“We were on a different page during the last session. Now it looks like we are on the same page,” Claitor said. “We are supportive of these folks.”